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Myths of Motherhood

Buying into the Super Mom myth is unrealistic, and many times, the source of postpartum depression.

By Ilyene Barsky, LCSW

Postpartum depression (PPD) often goes unrecognized. Many healthcare professionals have been sold by the media into thinking that having a baby is joyous and trouble-free. Women often don't realize that their symptoms actually have a name. A new mom may secretly believe that she is the only one who can't keep the house in order, can't sleep at night, can't help shouting at the children or nagging her partner.

From the time we are little girls, we are conditioned to the image of the "perfect mom." We are also supposed to have constant loving and protective feelings toward our children which are supposed to develop immediately after giving birth. What about women who don't bond immediately and may be unfulfilled by mothering? Often they are left with a sense of failure, inadequacy and disappointment. Another myth suggests that mothering is innate, intuitive and natural. Mothers who are unable to comfort or soothe their crying or colicky baby are viewed as being unable to mother.

The greatest myth of all is that motherhood is supposed to be the happiest time in a woman's life. As Sheila Kitzinger says in Women as Mothers, "There is so little recognition of what is actually involved in the fatiguing task of being a mother. Women are usually made to explain their postpartum experience in terms of internal state: their hormones, their psyches and their inadequate personalities instead of their realities."

The Super Mom myth makes it difficult for women to admit to problems after the birth. Often women suffering from PPD not only suffer in silence, but try to conceal their distress from others. In our society, we seem willing only to focus on the positive side of motherhood. New mothers often feel frightened and alone. Becoming a mother is a process. We learn to become mothers. And bonding may not occur immediately.

Societal pressures for new mothers to drop out of major interests and to be with their babies constantly seems to be a significant contributor to postpartum depression. A lot of attention is paid to staying home with the child, but little to how to help mothers who make this choice. Also, women who return to paid work are regarded as cold and unresponsive to the needs of her baby. It is a myth that the infant will suffer unless the mother is always present.

Our societal myths encourage a woman to fuse and confuse themselves as people with the role of mother. It is imperative that new mothers differentiate between motherhood and reality. What these myths have in common is that they are unrealistic - no women can live up to these expectations. Mothering is extremely hard work, whether a woman stays at home or combines it with paid work. The myth of a perfect mother who has it all together is just that - a myth.